While we believe President Trump’s now-infamous telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was anything but “perfect,” we have questioned whether it constituted an impeachable offense and whether it was politically wise to pursue impeachment when impeachment will not produce a conviction in the United States Senate.
From our reading of history, there is nothing inherently wrong with a President requesting an investigation of a political rival if there is a legitimate reason for requesting that information. In other words, was the request for an investigation of Bursima (think Biden) made in good faith or in bad faith. While we believe it was made in bad faith to help President Trump in the 2020 election, that is a fact to be determined, and President Trump’s request for the investigation is not, a per se (as the lawyers like to say) cause for impeachment. Thomas Jefferson’s dogged pursuit of treason charges against Aaron Burr (for which Burr was acquitted) could be viewed as either a good-faith or a bad-faith prosecution of a political enemy, but no one talked of impeachment. Then again, Donald Trump is no Thomas Jefferson.
The quid pro quo issue seems intriguing, but not altogether persuasive. Quid pro quo, or something for something, depends largely upon a determination that there was no Ukrainian involvement in our 2016 election. There is plenty of testimony about a consensus within the intelligence community that pretty much debunks the claim of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Nonetheless, the issue of Ukrainian interference is actually still under active investigation by John Durham, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, who has been commissioned by Attorney General Barr to look at the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. Far-fetched? Perhaps, but the issue of possible Ukrainian interference has not been disposed of as far as the United States Justice Department is concerned. Therefore, it seems to us that an argument can (and will) be made that President Trump’s obsession with Ukraine cannot be entirely dismissed, at this point in time, as a bad-faith effort “to bribe” President Zelensky with military assistance.
And even if the President is impeached, which seems quite likely, and the Senate fails to convict, which also seems quite likely, the potential for a sympathetic backlash among undecided voters is quite real, and history suggests, possibly quite likely. All of this raises the question of whether the Democrats are wasting a powerful election campaign issue with a less than powerful impeachment campaign issue. We understand that many people assume that the impeachment process will so damage President Trump that it will cost him precious votes in the general election, whether or not he is actually convicted in the United States Senate. That is a huge assumption; and perhaps, we believe, a reach too far.
Just as the Democrats pretty much control the course of the impeachment process in the House of Representatives, the Republicans will, pretty much, control the process in the Senate. The process in the House deliberately illuminates the worst side of President Trump. The process in the Senate is apt to do just the opposite, and the Senate process will be the last official word the voting public will hear.
Many Republicans, disingenuously, complain that the House proceedings are unfair because they demonstrate such a strong presumption of guilt. But the impeachment proceedings are very much akin to a grand jury, which is, essentially, a prosecutor’s forum. Its function is not to determine guilt or innocence, but rather to determine whether there are sufficient grounds for a trial (in the Senate) to determine guilt or innocence, that is, removal. Any articles of impeachment that are voted in the House, will be akin to indictments by a grand jury. The jury the President will face in the Senate will be, overwhelmingly, opposed to impeachment. Unlike criminal trials, however, there is no jury selection. The jury is already determined and, most certainly, so is the verdict.
Sadly, there is ample reason to be concerned that the failure to convict, or remove, President Trump in the Senate will leave the country more divided than ever. President Trump and a sizeable army of conservative commentators, a majority of US Senators and a large number of Republican Representatives will cry “failed coup attempt.” Millions of Americans will agree and many will simply have doubts about the entire affair. Meanwhile, the last Democrat standing after the Democratic primary bloodletting is over will have to deal with the aftermath of a failed attempt to remove the President.
Quite possibly, if not probably, the beneficiary of an impeachment that fails to remove the President will be President Donald J. Trump.